nuTonomy: The Global Race to Get a Robotaxi to Your Door
nuTonomy was an innovative company spun out of MIT that sought to develop Automated Mobility on Demand (AMoD) services: fleets of highly automated on-demand vehicles or “robotaxis.” The two founders had developed software and algorithms for autonomous vehicle operation in urban environments, but now faced a fundamental decision: Where should they conduct road tests to refine their models and make automated car services part of the actual transportation system? The critical problem was that the technology was well ahead of the regulatory environment, which meant that their efforts would involve legislative challenges, in addition to the technical work to make their vision a reality.
The case study describes the origins and rapid technological innovations of the automated vehicle sector, and the founders’ vision for a fleet of automated on-demand vehicles, hailed via a smartphone app, and controlled remotely through teleoperation. The founders could choose to remain in the Boston area to conduct the road tests, a critical part of the company’s next steps. Or operations could shift to California, where other start-ups in the space were already pushing state regulators to greenlight testing of automated vehicles on public roads. A third option was shifting to Singapore, where the government was committed to realizing the benefits of vehicle automation, and seemed to offer all the conditions for a rapid path to testing and the deployment of nuTonomy’s technology on public roads. Singapore also could offer excellent infrastructure, disciplined drivers, and mostly benign weather conditions.
The nuTonomy case study is designed to help students understand the rapid technological advances taking place in the field of automated vehicles and on-demand car service, and introduce the regulatory challenges and roadblocks that may occur in a highly innovative sector.